Bird Lore: California Scrub-Jay

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The California Scrub-Jay is a bird sporting a new name. Up until this past summer, the Western Scrub-Jay would occasionally visit Edmonds, usually in the fall. There has been a recent split of the species based on DNA studies. We now see a bird that has been renamed California Scrub-Jay.

In the 1950s the California Scrub-Jay, was a rare, permanent resident of southwestern Washington. It is now a common bird in Klickitat, Clark, Cowlitz, and Lewis Counties. It has been undergoing a natural range expansion as far north as the Lower BC Mainland west of the Cascades. There are increasing Snohomish County reports of this bird. We consider it a rarer species for Edmonds but that is based on sightings in public areas. There may be more sightings at backyard feeders than we know about, especially where sunflower seeds, peanuts and other nuts are offered.

The California Scrub-Jay has a varied diet, depending on the season and the region. In summer it eats a wide variety of insects and a few spiders and snails. Its winter diet is made up of acorns, other nuts, seeds and berries. Its sturdy, hooked bill gives it extra power to hammer open acorns. It will also eat some rodents, eggs, and young of other bird species as well as amphibians and small reptiles. It forages both on the ground and in trees, usually in flocks. Since there are so few seen in Edmonds, look for this species to associate with our more abundant Steller’s Jay.

Breeding is in isolated pairs. The nest site is in a tree or shrub, usually 5 – 30 feet above ground. Both sexes build the nest, which is a sturdy thick-walled cup of twigs, moss and grass. The female incubates her 3 – 6 eggs for about two weeks. The male feeds her while she incubates. Both parents feed the young until they leave the nest 18 – 19 days after hatching.

The oldest known California Scrub-Jay was 15 years and nine months of age. It was banded in California in 1932 and found in 1948, also in California. As are other members of the Corvid family (crows, ravens, magpies, and jays), the California Scrub-Jay is a mischievous species. It will steal acorns cached by other members of its species so it is on guard and on the lookout when it caches its own nuts.

Within its range, the California Scrub-Jay is common and its population appears to be stable. For conservation purposes it is considered a species of least concern.

You can listen to the California Scrub-Jay’s call here: http://www.xeno-canto.org/297455. Compare it to the call of our more common Steller’s Jay: http://www.xeno-canto.org/277099.

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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